Swifter, Higher, Stronger Rats

Learned behaviors of lab animals compete in Xtreme Rat Challenge.

By Laura Wright
Mar 28, 2004 6:00 AMNov 12, 2019 5:29 AM


Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

Introduction to Psychology is the only official prerequisite for Psych 160, but students who sign up for Spencer Morrison’s class at Nebraska Wesleyan University in Lincoln know that there’s another unwritten requirement: an interest in seeing rats perform bold athletic feats. Each student coaches an albino rodent, helping the animal train for an event once known as the Rat Olympics. (After the U.S. Olympic Committee threatened a lawsuit against the university, the event was renamed the Xtreme Rat Challenge.)

Morrison’s project has a serious motivation: to teach students about the psychological underpinnings of learned behavior. Working with live animals forces students to apply principles learned in the classroom in ingenious ways, he says. Each one strives to prepare a small rat for big challenges—standing long jump, tightrope walk, rope climb, weight lifting, and track hurdles. The rat challenge also taps into the psychology of the students themselves, Morrison says: A competitive event tends to make everyone work harder.

1 free article left
Want More? Get unlimited access for as low as $1.99/month

Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

1 free articleSubscribe
Discover Magazine Logo
Want more?

Keep reading for as low as $1.99!


Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

More From Discover
Recommendations From Our Store
Shop Now
Stay Curious
Our List

Sign up for our weekly science updates.

To The Magazine

Save up to 40% off the cover price when you subscribe to Discover magazine.

Copyright © 2024 Kalmbach Media Co.